The presence of contaminated sites near or in the middle of densely populated regions such as Flanders does not only pose a potential danger for public health, it also mortgages the further development and growth of the affected region. Because of their location, for instance in urban agglomerations or city centres, along water- and/or railways, etc..., such sites hold a tremendous potential for redevelopment and reuse. In Flanders a consensus is growing that these former industrial sites can play an important role in the revitalization of certain neighbourhoods and areas.
Moreover, the development of abandoned, contaminated sites or sites with suspected contamination, also called brownfields, seems necessary, especially in densely populated regions such as Flanders where the demand for building ground is bigger than the supply. An encouragement of a productive reuse of such sites results of course in the protection of the scarce green and open spaces.
However, the development of brownfields requires an efficient collaboration between all parties involved: local authorities, administrations, property owners, neighbours, local action groups, project developers, remediation experts, financing agencies, investors, insurers and others. The key question hereby is: can the site be remediated sufficiently and cost-efficiently to guarantee a safe and economic reuse, with clear definition of all responsibilities and liable parties?
The inertness of the complete development trajectory and process on one hand and the lack of knowledge and information regarding brownfield development on the other hand are actually responsible for the difficulties with and/or lack of start-ups and realisations of potential brownfield projects in Flanders.
In this perspective, the Flemish government has initiated in the last decade several initiatives to stimulate brownfield development.
One of these initiatives resulted in a new legislative framework for brownfield development. The brownfield decree of 2007 gives developers the opportunity to sign a contract with the Flemish governement and other responsible public authorities about the realisation of a brownfield project. The aim is to enter in an agreement on mutual commitments in order to reduce uncertainties in the development process. Approved projects may also enjoy some financial benefits: exemption of registration fees for propety transfers and exemption of the obligation of posting financial securities for soil remediation in case of transfer of contaminated land.
In 2008, the Flemish government launched a call for proposals. Today, 21 projects have been approved by the Flemish government.
An important financial contribution of OVAM in the soil remediation on brownfields is possible when the current owner has obtained the so-called status of "innocent owner". In this case, OVAM may finance and carry out the remediation works. Up to now, OVAM has realised several remediation works on brownfield sites in cooperation with the developer of the site.